A horrific scenario I hope never occurs:
Washington D.C. was attacked today by Country X. Agents from X unleashed a massive chemical and biological barrage. Tens of thousands lie dead and dying, more are sick. Officials fear the worst as the prevailing winds are carrying the contaminants towards Baltimore. Residents in that coastal town have been fleeing for their lives.
Luckily, President Obama was not in the Capitol at the time of the attack.
He was however quick to rush to a microphone to assure the world that the United States would not retaliate with nuclear weapons.
“My lawyers have assured me that Country X has been in full compliance with the Non Proliferation Treaty. They have consistently filled out all the forms required of them—in triplicate—and have undergone all their inspections.
“Since my latest Nuclear Posture Review, I pledged that we will not use nuclear weapons against any country that has completed all the proper paperwork.”
When asked how the United States would respond, since it would not be allowed to use its best weapons, Mr Obama said, “Capitol police have been asked to work double shifts to bring those that carried out this incident to justice.”
Think I’m joking? From yesterday’s Nuclear Posture Review’s Executive Summary:
During the Cold War, the United States reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a massive conventional attack by the Soviet Union…Moreover, after the United States gave up its own chemical and biological weapons (CBW) pursuant to international treaties (while some states continue to possess or pursue them), it reserved the right to employ nuclear weapons to deter CBW attack on the United States and its allies and partners.
Note the attempt to hide the most frightening news in a parenthesis: “while some states continue to possess or pursue them”. The report continues:
Since the end of the Cold War…the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks—conventional, biological, or chemical—has declined significantly. The United States will continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.
Thus, “[massive] conventional, biological, or chemical” attacks will not be responded to with nukes.
And how about the “paperwork” hilarity? True, too. The report:
[T]he United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
In other words, as long as your documentation is properly filed, and you have proved you don’t have any nukes secreted away, you are free to attack with as heinous and horrible biological or chemical weapons as you have without fearing nuclear retaliation.
There is some good news. While those that attack us won’t have to duck and cover, they will still “be held fully accountable.” We’ll hit back with dialog!
Why make this radical change in nuclear-weapon-use policy? Mr Obama says that tying one arm of the U.S. behind its back will serve as an incentive for warlike nations such as Iran to recognize “the security benefits of adhering to and fully complying with the NPT.”
You might have noticed the loophole: countries who attack us that were not in compliance with the NPT or who were but had nuclear weapons (even though they didn’t use them) might have to face our nukes. What would trigger our nuclear response? The Posture Review says a “narrow range of contingencies.” But it doesn’t say what those contingencies are.
The strongest language says that the “United States is therefore not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons, but will work to establish conditions under which such a policy could be safely adopted.” [emphasis mine]
This says that future policy will soon say that nukes would not be used in any way except as a deterrent against nuclear attacks. In other words, we’ll allow anything—including proliferation, experimentation, and engineering improvements in other countries’ nuclear weapons technology—and we won’t respond. And we might not even respond if attacked with nukes: we’ll just hope the aging stockpile deters others from attacking.
The Posture Review, incidentally, is also quick to say that the U.S. will not proliferate, experiment, or engineer improvements in our own nuclear weapons technology.
In case there are any countries out there left worried that we might hit them back, the Review soothes by saying that “our willingness to use nuclear weapons” has not “in any way increased.”
The theory behind these actions is that if we act like a nice guy, everybody else will too. It’s the “Can’t we all just get along?” nuclear Policy of Hope.
I don’t know about you, but I feel much safer.